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Version 9: Hey Everyone
VR = film productions, Roblox Walmart ads, Google Stadia shutters, Bruce Willis locks down his avatar, and Magic Leap 2 launches
Welcome back to Threshold, your weekly guide to understanding "metaverse" ambitions from Big Tech and the path to commercial viability of AR/VR hardware for mainstream consumers. Plenty happened last week in cyberspace, here's what mattered the most:
Film Studio Anywhere
Last week's big idea was that virtual reality has already revolutionized digital storytelling, but without the need to wear a headset. Forbes made the argument, and it aligns with the theme of this newsletter that VR is more of a cognitive threshold than a wearable headset. Forbes writes, "We’re not putting on headsets, but the tech that powers a VR headset is being used to create virtual worlds for actors to perform in. Instead of flying film crews to Tunisia or building expensive physical sets, we can put far-flung locations on LED walls in a film studio anywhere."
It's virtual reality, but for the actors, instead of the audience!
The tech Forbes refers to is the combo of a real-time engine + physical camera tracking, so when a film crew moves a camera it updates the massive LED walls around the set, helping actors anchor their performance. Visual effects have done this with computer graphics and rendering technologies for a long time, but never in real-time capacity on set.
Unity and Unreal are powerful software development kits, and it's amazing that film crews and artists don't have to build their own tools from scratch. I'm currently beta testing some new Unity cinematic features, and I'm excited by the way they amplify production for the types of stories that are more linear and media-based than traditional video games.
It's possible VR hype over the last decade might amount to making real-time engines more mainstream for use cases outside of developing video games. For example, a YouTuber recently created his own take on Chris Pratt playing Mario using the Unreal engine with very little game development experience, and it signals a growing trend of using game engines to produce linear 2D content, not games.
As I've written about before, emerging "metaverse" platforms are in danger of becoming too early native advertising platforms. The National Law Review had the scoop, and with Roblox's incoming ad changes, it's a pressing time to start asking transparency questions. What does branded or sponsored content look like in 3D if not a traditional billboard?
Perhaps it looks like one of two Roblox servers launched by Walmart last week: Walmart Land and Walmart Universe of Play. Both are interactive, with plenty of opportunities to play and interact with real brands like Skullcandy and Razor. But are either "native advertisements" under FTC’s guidelines? According to The Verge, already 200K users have visited one of Walmart's virtual worlds.
PC Gamer had the most succinct summary, who covered a Kotaku reporter that visited and was greeted by Walmart Chief Marketing Officer William White in a canned recording that said, "Hey everyone," despite there only being an audience of one.
Too Big to Stream
What happens when a big tech company like Google fails not for lack of innovation, but because of lack of trust? Well now we know, because it was called Google Stadia. TechCrunch wrote last week that Stadia died because it couldn't seem to ever gain the trust of gamers.
They wrote, "And here’s where it was really doomed. Because while people will happily drop a couple bucks here and there for a Google service, no one is going to pay hundreds for something they have a sneaking feeling is going to be completely worthless in short order."
This should be a prescient warning to others like Meta and Amazon that are rapidly losing the trust of their users. Can Netflix, with all its current video game aspirations, do any better than Google's own internal Stadia Studio did?
In a plot resembling a movie he already starred in (it was called Surrogates), The Hollywood Reporter covered Bruce Willis about how he did then didn't sign over his digital likeness rights. His agency clarified it all as not true, and that past digital twin advertisements are not freely available in the future (and will be decisions left up to his estate).
Digital twins are nothing new, Orville Redenbacher's twin was used in ads as far back as 2007, but what is most crazy about this is if you combine it with the tech at the beginning of this newsletter, you essentially have directors using game engines to direct productions with completely digital ACTORS, too.
Deepfake actors, once incorporated in real-time game engines, won't perhaps replace the nuance and complexity of Oscar performances, but they could surely deliver simple advertisements.
Or at the least more Hallmark Channel movies at a faster cadence than they already do!
Magic Leap quietly launched it's second device last week, retailing for $3,200 to mostly enterprise clients. How will this fare against Meta's upcoming Cambria device? I'm not sure, but at least Magic Leap has been slowly gaining the trust of the enterprise training market under their CEO Peggy Johnson's leadership (who joined from Microsoft). She said of the tech, "In the many conversations that I’ve had with business leaders, I have heard firsthand how AR is being heralded as the next technological disruption, but the immense promise and list of benefits it has to offer still feels just out of reach."
If Meta wants to drive enterprise adoption as a use case of its “pro” devices, it will need to align those immense promises and make them feel more within reach. It's hard to keep touting a "metaverse" that is 5-10 years away when hardware need to sell today.
Quote of the Week
"I always think it’s important that people understand what something is. And I’m really not sure the average person can tell you what the metaverse is" - Apple CEO Tim Cook (9 to 5 Mac)
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